Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Simón Bolívar Cultural Centre - Ode to a revolutionary

Published:Sunday | October 4, 2015 | 10:00 AM
Façade of Simón Bolívar Centre in downtown Kingston.
Copy of Simón Bolívar's 'Letter to Jamaica' mounted at the Simón Bolívar Centre in downtown Kingston.
A collage of Caribbean liberators at Simón Bolívar Centre in downtown Kingston.
An artist's rendition of an intersection of Harbour and King streets at Simón Bolívar Centre in downtown Kingston.
An artist's rendition of Simón Bolívar's uniform.
Simon Bolivar: 'El Liberatador' – a poster detailing the life of the Venezuelan revolutionary at the Simón Bolívar Centre in downtown Kingston.
Influences that captivated Simón Bolívar – a poster at Simon Bolivar Centre in downtown Kingston.
Photograph of Simón Bolívar's recreated face at the centre.
Caribbean liberators
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The pen is mightier than the sword, it is said, which is true, as the ink flowing from the nib has changed the course of history and become, and still is, that catalyst for revolutions. A Venezuelan learnt this in Jamaica, as his thoughts flew from his pen to ink his ideas, which became the blueprint of how Latin America would be shaped in the coming years.

Two hundred years ago, Simón Bolívar sought refuge in Jamaica to escape from counter-revolutionary forces, a time he spent to reflect and plan a course of action. It is here he penned 'Letter from Jamaica', in which he expounded his thoughts for republican government and Latin American unity.

An ode to this revolutionary, The Simón Bolívar Cultural Centre at North Parade in downtown Kingston stands as a testament to his life and time spent on the island.

"His struggle, his letter and his philosophies are of great importance to Jamaica today," said Jonathan Greenland, director of the National Museum Jamaica, Institute of Jamaica (IOJ).

"Moreover," Greenland added, "Jamaica and the Caribbean had a huge impact on his thinking and career."

TWO MAIN OBJECTIVES

The establishment of the centre, according to director of the Programmes Coordination Division at the IOJ, Jacqueline Bushay, is based on two primary objectives.
"The centre is intended to strengthen the cross-cultural links between the Caribbean, including Haiti and Latin America, and to re-establish Parade as the cultural district of downtown Kingston," she said.

"The second objective," Bushay told The Sunday Gleaner, "is to build on the concept of cultural enlightenment by providing a facility that will offer opportunities for young children to be exposed to the diverse range of cultural performing arts, languages, and foods of the region."

Reconstructed to incorporate elements of contemporary style and hints of Georgian architecture, the centre celebrates and highlights Bolívar's stay.

"Our goal is to create a museum exhibition that explored how Simón Bolívar was relevant to the people of Jamaica," said Greenland. "And he was."

The centre will house a library on the ground floor and exhibition space on the first floor, which proposes to have a multifunctional space to accommodate 50 persons.

"Through this space, there will be opportunities to showcase the cultural heritage of the Latin American people, through the visual and performing arts," Bushay said. "In addition, businesses could also utilise the resources of the facility for meetings and special events."

SHOWCASING LIFE

Currently showcased on the first level at SalÛn de Bolívar is an exhibition highlighting the life, influences, and interpretations of Bolívar; the focal point being the replica of 'Letter from Jamaica'.

Showcased are collages which present the relevance of Bolívar's learning in Jamaica.

He once said: "El arte de vencer se aprende en las derrotas" (The art of winning is learned in defeat).

Bolívar came here defeated and as a person in exile, and got a chance to reinvent himself and formulate ideas that have been the source of influence of several of Latin America's modern leaders.

"Remember," said Greenland, "Bolívar came here at a very low point in his life and, as we all know, those can be very formative times."

In the offing, said Bushay, are the establishment of an interpretation room and a language laboratory, which will benefit a wide cross section of the society, including students and those who are interested in learning Spanish.

Bushay is hopeful that the redevelopment of the space will improve the general aesthetics of the Parade area.

As I stood on the sidewalk to find an angle to photograph the centre, a lady walking past slowed down.

"Good afternoon, sir," she said. "Please be very careful [with] your camera ... be careful."

This warning, perhaps, serves as a reminder that aesthetics, complemented by change in the mindset, must bring downtown, the hub of commerce and business, back to its glory days.

Metaphorically and physically, the relevance of Bolívar's learning and legacy lives on.

amitabh.sharma@hotmail.com